DEAR HARRIETTE: My neighbor is an elderly woman who lives alone because her husband passed away a few years ago and her children live in a different state. We’ve never been close -- perhaps because my block isn’t the friendliest. Nonetheless, I want to reach out to her and let her know that we are here if she wants to come over for dinner or needs a favor. I want to offer help without seeming like I’m doing it out of pity. How should I start? -- Elderly Neighbor
DEAR ELDERLY NEIGHBOR: With an open heart, go for it. Start by knocking on her door one day and telling her you just stopped by to check in and say hello. Ask her if you can visit with her for a few minutes. If she lets you in, sit with her and listen to what she shares. Many older people like to tell stories of their past. They may also reveal what some of their needs are.
Look around. Note how she lives. She could need help tidying her house or managing her food. She surely could benefit from an occasional meal cooked by someone else. Do invite her to come to your home for dinner sometimes. Offer to help with small tasks. If it seems she needs significant help, find out if she will put you in touch with her adult children or other family members to whom you can give a status report. Tread lightly, though. The best thing you can do is to ease into a relationship with her where you build trust. Through that bond, she will become more willing to welcome your help. Also, be mindful not to offer more than you can fulfill or manage. Your attention to this elder in any amount can be enormously supportive. Just make sure you are balancing your offering with the rest of your life.